Cunin's Big Breakfast
by Hank Magitz
Boruch Shlomo Cunin was feeling nothing but love as he pulled his Lexus up to Heavenly Bagels early Monday morning. He loved the smell of his new car, which someone who knew nothing about Chabad had donated the night before. He loved tax write-offs. He loved being Boruch Shlomo Cunin.
Emerging from the vehicle with a broad smile, he stood in the parking lot of the eatery, the sunlight reflecting off the brim of his black hat. He wore a long black coat, black slacks, and spit-polished black patent-leather shoes; his clothes were as uncompromising, as unhappy as the bronze suit on the seated Lincoln in Washington. He entered Heavenly Bagels expecting the usual warm greeting and welcoming faces, but as he stood in the doorway, with patrons coming and going, no one seemed to notice him. Perplexed, Cunin stood statuesque for a moment until he recognized a well-dressed man in the take-out queue who he quickly approached. He put his hand on the man’s broad shoulder. The man turned toward him.
“Hello Reb Mordechai!” said Cunin, beaming.
The well-dressed man looked at him with contempt. “Get out of my face, you bastard,” he said coldly.
Cunin was too stunned to even respond. Red-faced as if slapped, he backed away then stood perfectly still for another long moment, attempting to comprehend why this man, a deep-pocketed supporter of Chabad of Los Angeles, would treat him with such hostility. As he stared at the man’s back, which had now turned toward him again, Cunin decided to forgo the take-out line and sit down for a coffee instead. He needed to digest the insult he’d just swallowed. He moved toward the back of the establishment where three tiny tables awaited patrons, then deposited his large fundament onto a small stool and awaited service. But none was offered. After ten minutes had ticked by and the last take-out customer had exited, Cunin’s patience had sufficiently thinned.
“Excuse me!” he said to the young lady at the counter, a woman he recognized but, being a shiksa, had never addressed before.
The woman looked up.
“Do you think I can get a coffee, please?”
There was no response.
“A coffee,” Cunin emphasized.
“I understood you,” she said.
“May I have one please?”
The young woman approached then halted and stood over Cunin. “Bastard,” she said. She punctuated her assessment by spitting on his shoes.
Cunin recoiled in his stool, then stood up enraged. “What is the meaning of this?” he shouted, but it was to her back as she walked away. “I demand to know the meaning!” he yelled after her.
Her only reply was to flip him off as she walked into the kitchen.
First that frya yid and now this goyta! Cunin thought as he followed her, indignant, toward the kitchen. He was getting to the bottom of this outrage immediately—after all, he was Boruch Shlomo Cunin, head of Chabad of all California! To treat him this way, he believed, was an affront to the Almighty Himself!
Cunin burst through the swinging kitchen doors like a Hollywood gunslinger. He spied the waitress in the vicinity of two Korean men in chef’s hats and dirty white aprons. “Where is the owner?” he demanded of the trio.
“Right behind you,” came a voice from just over Cunin’s right shoulder.
Cunin turned to encounter Milton Kanterfogel, proprietor of Heavenly Bagels and a regular contributor to Chabad institutions.
“Ah!” said Cunin, his face now a mixture of rage and relief. He grabbed Kanterfogel’s right hand and shook it briskly between his own two. “Reb Milton,” he said, “I must inform you of the shocking manner in which I was just treated by your employee!”
“What happened?” asked Kanterfogel.
Cunin turned toward the waitress and extended an accusing finger. “This woman spoke very rudely to me and spit on me.”
Kanterfogel looked over at the waitress who stood motionless next to the two dumbfounded Koreans. “Carla,” he asked, “you spit on Rabbi Cunin?”
With neither remorse nor embarrassment, the woman Carla nodded. The left corner of Cunin’s mouth curled in satisfaction. He looked back to Kanterfogel awaiting justice.
“There’ll be a little extra in your paycheck this week, kiddo,” said Kanterfogel to the young woman. Then to Cunin, “Now get the hell out of my restaurant, you sonufabitch, and don’t let me catch you back here again. Everybody knows what you are—there’ll be no bagels for you!”
* * *
“No bagels for me?” B.S. Cunin paced back and forth in the main sanctuary of the Chabad Center in Pico Robertson. “No bagels for me?” He had spent millions on the huge replica of the famed 770 synagogue, not as an edifice to the original shul but rather to punish the non-Lubavitchers who prayed next door. “No bagels for ME!” Indeed, he’d promised to build the building so tall that the sun would never again shine on Aishe HaTorah. And it hadn’t.
As he paced, Cunin could not be accurately described as angry. His entire body spasmed at the very thought of how he’d been spoken to. He was no rabbi, now—he was a berserker, a demon, a wild rabid beast. He frothed at the mouth as he conferred with his experts who knew the times, for such was Cunin’s procedure to turn to all who knew Chabad law and judgment. Those closest to him were Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Herson, Shemtov, Krinsky and Memuchan, who had access to Cunin and sat first in his kingdom.
Herson, a man whose character had never been sullied by a scruple, declared before Cunin and the officials, “It is not only Cunin who Heavenly Bagels has wronged but also the entire Vaad haShluchim and those who are loyal to us. Take away their hashgacha! Remove their kashrut certificate and then they will see how many people eat there!”
The other Vaad members nodded their approval.
“It’s not enough!” shrieked Cunin, his voice echoing through the empty sanctuary. His hysterical invectives sometimes cost him his voice, but this evening he didn't care. “I want more than their kashrut certificates!” he screamed. “If it weren’t for me, there would be no kosher bagels in all of California! Were there kosher bagels when the Rebbe sent me here in 1965? There was nothing! No Chabad! No kashrus! Gurnisht!”
“Go after their establishment then!” suggested Berel Shemtov, licking his teeth. “Get the legal team who represented us against Naparstek!”
“Yes, yes!” said Cunin tugging at his beard. “But lawyers like that don’t come cheap. And the telethon isn’t for six months. I’ve already spent the entire budget on new buildings for my sons and sons-in-law and grandsons and those who are loyal to me.”
“Call John Voight!” suggested Krinsky, eager for a photo op. “Perhaps he can be duped into giving you the money.”
“Yes, yes,” said Cunin, his eyes squinting in contemplation of the chessboard ahead… Then suddenly those eyes became wild with excitement.
“I have it!” he declared. “I know what to do!”
“What? What?” asked Carshena and Shethar and Admatha in unison.
“I will take away the very essence of what they do.”
“Their what?” asked Herson, always the last to catch on.
“Their essence, shmendrik! There’s a clause in all Chabad contracts signed with bakeries and restaurants and bagel makers. Before we give them our seal of kashrut, they must sign over their rights to me.” Cunin wrung his hands greedily. He was starting to feel like himself again. “I will invoke my power over all the bagels throughout all of California!”
“Don’t forget Nevada,” said Memuchan.
“Yes, yes—Nevada, too. By the time I’m through with these momzers, the only thing you’ll be able to buy west of Chicago is a croissant!”
* * *
“I can’t believe he’s actually suing us,” said Sy Kanterfogel.
“Believe it,” said Milton, Sy’s brother.
“But after all the money we gave to Chabad over the years…”
Milt snickered. “But what have we done for him lately?”
“You know,” said Sy, annoyed, “you really didn’t have to be so snotty to him.”
Milt looked up at his brother with astonishment. “After what he did to Rabbi Naparstek?” He didn’t have to remind his brother what had happened to the Chabad of Marina del Rey—it was all over the papers. Rabbi Naparstek, an immigrant, had built a storefront into a beautiful synagogue specifically for Jews who knew little of their heritage. Over the course of two decades, hundreds of families joined up. The mayor spoke there. The governor. Bibi Netanyahu. Naparstek was beloved. Then Cunin came along with a top legal team and, as head of Chabad of California Incorporated, claimed the properties were his.
In an O.J. Simpson moment, the Superior Court of Los Angeles agreed.
Sy lit a cigar. He nodded his head slowly.
“Other Lubavitchers stay silent hoping Cunin won’t turn on them,” said Milt. “But what goes around comes around. Look what he did to Rabbi Lisbon! And the Shusterman kids!”
Sy sighed. “When you’re right, you’re right.”
Do you remember Sruli Teitelbaum?”
“Do I remember Sruli Teitelbaum?” Sy smiled.
“And Rabbi Drizin!” said Milt. “And the rabbi with the tie-died shirt! And—”
“Alright already!” said Sy. “I get the picture.” He put his cigar down. “I just want to know how the Lubavitcher Rebbe, he should rest in peace, could have appointed such men.”
“I’d have to say Moses was at least as wise as the Rebbe,” answered Milt. “The men he appointed to spy out the promised land didn’t turn out so ay-yi-yi either. Wasn't his fault.”
The legal battle was relatively short. First, Cunin’s attorney’s filed in Los Angeles Superior Court for control over all bagel establishments and establishments that served bagels throughout the region. To gain support, Cunin’s people leaked a story to the press regarding “an alleged international stock manipulation scheme” on the part of bagel establishments meant to drive the prices of lox through the roof.
Cunin further alleged that Heavenly Bagels and their co-conspirators were conducting unauthorized chive experiments that had compromised their strict kashrut agreement with Chabad. Sheldon Piggmann, counselor for Chabad, moved that the recipes, ingredients, and even shapes of the bagels themselves belong to Chabad of California since Chabad of California had provided the first Jew to light the first oven that baked the very first pas-Yisroel bagel in all of California. “Whatever bagels were baked thereafter were outgrowths of this initial bagel,” Piggmann said. “Period.”
The many counselors for the many defendants maintained that their clients—the proprietors of bagel establishments and establishments that served bagels—were in no way indebted to Cunin’s organization for having given his kashrut certificates to their places of business. Those relationships, they argued, were mutually beneficial insofar as the establishments paid, and paid well, for said certificates. Moreover, Cunin and his sons had always eaten for free.
The weakness in the defense, however, was the disorganized way that these individuals fought for their rights. Had they banded together, they may have stood a chance. Instead, they hung alone.
On April 31, 2007, the Superior Court of Los Angeles ruled that Boruch Shlomo Cunin had full jurisdiction over all of the bagels on the west coast.
The holes, they said, were his.
The next morning, the Kanterfogel brothers closed Heavenly Bagels for good. Dozens of other bagel establishments and establishments that served bagels followed suit. And in every province, any place that Cunin’s command and his decree extended, there was great mourning among the Jews, and fasting and weeping and lament, sackcloth and ashes. No longer would a Jewish soul, or any other soul for that matter, be warmed on a Sunday morning by a toasted onion bagel with a shmear of cream cheese.
Indeed, throughout California, there were no bagels to be found anywhere—only bialys and rolls and pletzles. Cunin had won again.
Back in Marina del Rey, Cunin stood in the huge building that had once been a synagogue. He liked coming here—the silence reminded him how lonely it was at the top. With glee and a sour stomach, he sat down alone to count his growing congregation of holes.